Instant replay: The 10 most improbable finishes in college football history

Auburn’s Chris Davis, en route to history, silences Alabama dreams of a three-peat.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes an improbable play that stirs the soul. Witness what happened on November 30, when Auburn shocked top-ranked Alabama with a length-of-the-field return on the last play of the game. 50 years from now, fans will remember where they were when the play occurred.

It was the greatest finish in college football history. Take a look at the top 10 with video links.

1. The War Damn Miracle

2013, Auburn 34, Alabama 28

Alabama, gunning for its third straight national championship, attempted to snap a tie with a 57-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game. The kick was short, but Auburn return man Chris David took the ball at the back of the end zone and ran 109 yards (officially 100) for the winning touchdown. Auburn had tied the game with 32 seconds remaining, following a 99-yard touchdown pass that gave Alabama the lead earlier in the fourth quarter. Ironically, in their previous game two weeks earlier, the War Eagles stunned Georgia on a last-minute 73-yard pass, known as The Immaculate Deflection.

2. The Play

1982, Cal 25, Stanford 20

Cal, trailing 20-19 with just four seconds remaining against arch-rival Stanford, used five laterals on a kick return to score the winning touchdown, racing the final yards through the Stanford band, which had come onto the field believing the game was over. John Elway, playing in his final regular season college game, led Stanford to a field goal before Cal’s hysteria on the ensuing kickoff.

With the clock winding down, Doug Flutie winds up to throw his Hail Mary pass.

3. The Hail Mary

1984, Boston College 47, Miami 45

On the day after Thanksgiving, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw a desperation, 48-yard touchdown pass to his roommate, Gerard Phelan, on the final play of the game to lead the Eagles past Miami at the Orange Bowl. Flutie would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that season.

4. The Statue of Liberty

2007, Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42, OT

One of the wildest games in NCAA history, capped by one of the wildest endings. Playing in the Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma scored 25 straight points but Boise State tied the game on a hook and ladder play with seconds remaining. After the Sooners scored in overtime, Boise countered with a touchdown and then won the game with a two-point conversion on another circus play — the Statue of Liberty.

 

5. The Lateralpalooza

2007, Trinity 28, Millsaps 24

You have to see this play to believe it. In a Division III showdown in Mississippi, Trinity used 15 laterals to score on a 61-yard kick return touchdown as time expired. The longest play in college football history took 62 seconds to complete,

6. The Bluegrass Miracle

2002, LSU 33, Kentucky 30

After Kentucky players gave head coach Guy Morriss a Gatorade shower, LSU scored on a  74-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Marcus Randall to wide receiver Devery Henderson on the final play of the game.


7. Miracle at the Big House

1994, Colorado 27, Michigan 26

Kordell Stewart’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Michael Westbrook as time expired stunned a huge Michigan crowd at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Stewart’s pass traveled nearly 80 yards in the air.

8. The Bush Push

2005, USC 34, Notre Dame 31

Trailing 31-28 with just seven seconds left to play, USC went for the win instead of kicking a tying field goal. Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart scored the winning touchdown on a keeper, helped by a shove from behind by running back Reggie Bush.

9. Happy Holiday

1980, BYU 46, SMU 45

BYU overcame a 20-point deficit in the final three minutes and scored three touchdowns, sparked by Jim McMahon’s 41-yard pass to Clay Brown at the gun, to stun SMU

10. Harvard beats Yale, 29-29

1968, Harvard 29, Yale 29

The Harvard Crimson headline said it all. Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds — including a touchdown and two point conversion after time expired — to tie rival Yale. The teams shared the Ivy League title at 8-0-1.

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5 Comments on “Instant replay: The 10 most improbable finishes in college football history”

  1. almadenmike says:

    “Yale came into the game with a 16-game winning streak and its quarterback, Brian Dowling, had only lost one game when he was in the starting lineup since the sixth grade.” (from Wikipedia’s page on the game: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Yale_vs._Harvard_football_game).

    Dowling was the inspiration for the “B.D.” character in fellow Yalie Garry Trudeau’s comic strip, Doonesbury.

    This list reminds me that I should watch the documentary made on this game (using the Crimson headline as the title, of course: http://www.kinolorber.com/video.php?id=955

  2. Spid says:

    Might be a new contender tonight (10/17/15)… Michigan state at michigan. Michigan state took the only lead of the game with 00:00 remaining, after running a dropped snap back for a td. I’ve never seen such a stunned crowd (except maybe Colorado state – CU earlier this year…)

    • SportsLifer says:

      Agreed. Definitely makes the Top 10. There was an article in the New York Post yesterday saying the MSU play (or should that be Michigan misplay) might be #1.

  3. almadenmike says:

    Although it was an incredibly shocking finish, I’d rate last weekend’s Big House Blunder as no higher than #3 in improbability. A botched punt-snap runback is much more likely than band-on-the-field or FG-return TDs.


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